Directed by Satoshi Kon. Voices by Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Emori, Kouichi Yamadera, Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Furuya, Akio Ohtsuka, Hideyuki Tanaka. (2006, R, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 20, 2007
It's almost impossible to imagine an animated film like Paprika ever being produced in America. Not to knock the fine work of Pixar and the occasionally somewhat less fine work of the Disney gang, but Paprika's cypher-punk story of futuristic psychotherapy and the inherent perils of messing about with the minds of the masses falls outside even the Dick-realm of A Scanner Darkly, its closest domestic contemporary. That said, Paprika, directed by the legendary Japanese animator Kon (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers) and adapted from a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, is – no pun intended – heady stuff, shot through with the kind of psycho-social metaphors and grim, end-time observations that put Yanks like Bruce Sterling and William Gibson on the literary cyber-map. In the multilayered world of Paprika, reality and dreams commingle, collide, and eventually override each other after the theft of a prototype psychotherapy tool, code-named the DC-Mini, which allows therapists (and, more dangerously, others) to enter peoples' subconscious minds and retool their personalities where necessary. Dr. Atsuko Chiba is the crux of Kon's film, a research assistant to DC-Mini designer Dr. Tokita, and the woman whose own dreamtime alter-ego bears the name of the titular spice. Part detective story, part meditation on the nature of the self, and part morality tale on mankind's penchant for obliterating (or, at the very least, obfuscating) his own humanity in the quest for ever greater control over the still-mysterious realm of the human mind, Paprika is dense, trippy stuff and a perfect match for Kon's riotous visuals. Much of the imagery here takes place in the subconscious as Dr. Chiba/Paprika sets out in search of clues to the missing mind-warper, which allows Kon to literally go crazy in depicting both inner madness and outer turmoil. Schizophrenia never looked so good or so mesmerizing as it does here, and Paprika, while certainly not suitable for kids, manages to capture the childlike, helter-skelter chaos and curiosity of the human mind better than any other animated film.